Still yearning

2018-04-19 06:00

IT was a moment the world stood still for the majority of South Africans but I was not even aware of the significance of the day.

The day dawned with the sound of the induna’s trumpet filling up the quiet morning as it woke up the village for the day that would change everybody’s life. For me the sound of the trumpet meant that someone was getting married or someone important had died.

As a nine-year old girl growing up in the rural outskirts of Eshowe, I was just happy I didn’t have to go to school that Wednesday.

It should have occurred to me that something big was going to happen when my grandmother, much to my granddad’s chagrin, made us sleep in her garden the night before. She was scared that the state was going to send soldiers to bomb all the homes of black people.

My grandparents dressed to the nines and left for the nearby school to cast their début votes in the first democratic elections.

I didn’t understand the concept of elections so I pleaded with my grandma to buy me a red lollipop.

Uncertainty filled the air and I was instructed to stay indoors with my 17-year-old babysitter Bonani Zulu. I could not visit any of my friends or go outside to wave to the helicopters that kept going past. Some helicopters dropped pamphlets with Nelson Mandela and Mangosuthu Buthelezi’s smiling faces.

Our small FM radio did not play much music that day as correspondents from different parts of the country updated the listeners on the proceedings at voting stations.

They interviewed the first-time voters who expressed their excitement that apartheid was coming to an end. Some were fearful of how democracy would change the country and ultimately their lives. An overjoyed few ululated on air. By this time I was convinced that something either really good or really bad was about to happen because helicopters had not stopped flying about and police cars were driving by every few minutes.

Trucks and tractors transported people to voting stations and walkers occasionally gave cars the right of way on the small road.

An excited reporter interviewed Nelson Mandela and when his voice hit the microphone, my babysitter turned up the volume.

I could not understand most of what he was saying but his number one fan, who was in the room with me, was jumping up and down. When I told her that I thought he sounded funny, which was probably because he is Xhosa and I was only exposed to Zulu and Thonga at the time, she shushed me and reprimanded me for being disrespectful to an elder.

“We are going to get electricity and running water like white people. We are going to get nice houses and schools,” she said to me after his interview.

When the skies turned orange signalling the end of the day was near, my grandparents finally came home.

They told us that they had decided to go and vote at another voting station because the one closer had a long queue but the next one turned out to be no better.

The next day my grandfather told me about how excited everyone was at the voting station and how he didn’t need any assistance when he went to the voting booth because he could read.

I listened attentively as he lectured me about the importance of never taking my right to vote or South Africa’s democracy for granted because millions had died for it.

The dawn of democracy came with hopes that there would be indeed a better life for all but for many that remains an unfulfilled promise.

My grandparents died still yearning for even the basic services such as running water and electricity.

I think if they were still alive they would be like most South Africans who are slowly tiring of a government that is big on words and the action that is seen is self-enrichment and blatant looting of state funds.

For the better part of South Africa’s 24-year-old democracy, the ANC government has been promising people jobs, better health care and housing, but millions are still living in poverty or they are drowning in debt because they cannot afford even the basics.

Later this month there will be events around the country to commemorate Freedom Day; however, many who will be bused to fill up the stadiums are still feeling trapped in their economic circumstances just as they were under the apartheid government.

These events cost the state thousands of rands, funds that could be used to make a meaningful impact on people’s lives instead of feeding them lunch while they listen to politicians talk about how far this country has come since 1994, just because their own financial circumstances have improved since ascending to higher positions.

Stats SA data indicate that poverty is on the rise. Despite the decline in poverty between 2006 and 2011, by 2015 poverty levels had gone up again, from 53% in 2011 to 55%.

The instability in the economy has also led to the high unemployment, especially among the youth, and many are wondering whether they’ll even drag themselves to the voting stations that once held so much excitement.

• Nokuthula Ntuli is the municipal reporter at The Witnes­s.

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